SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) – The AIDS Memorial Quilt was on display over the weekend at Golden Gate Park, with about 3,000 panels spread across Robin Williams Meadow.
This was the first display since 1996, when it covered the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
Cleve Jones came up with the idea for the quilt 35 years ago, during a candlelight march in memory of Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone, who were killed in 1978 in City Hall.
It was November 1985, and the AIDS death toll in San Francisco stood at 1,000.
“It only happened because so many people shared my need to express our grief and our anger and our outrage at the lack of government response,” Jones stated.
What started as an idea to memorialize the men and women dying of acquired immune deficiency syndrome still lives on to this day — growing to more than 50,000 panels with more than 100,000 names of those who have died from the human immunodeficiency virus.
“It doesn’t matter what anybody says because me everyone told me this was the stupidest thing they had ever heard of and it went on to become one of the world’s largest community arts projects,” Jones said.
The quilt is overseen by the National AIDS Memorial, weighing roughly 54 tons and growing.
For it’s 35th anniversary, quilt volunteers like Michael Bongiorni and Joanie Juster have gathered once a week in San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood to help create new panels and repair old ones.
“They used hot glue,” Bongiorni said.
Bongiorni has had to go through the emotions of making a panel for a friend several times, like the one covered in pink tool for his friend James.
Bongiorni described him as “one of those people that was so smart, but … nothing would stop him and he would step over the bounds.”
Each time the quilt is taken out of storage and displayed, there’s a reading of names.
People are able to see the lives represented and hear who they were over the loudspeaker.
“When you add that name, your emotions explode,” Bongiorni said.
Thirty-five years since the first panel was created, there’s still activism being done by the founders of the AIDS Memorial Quilt and those who carry on its mission.
The group is shedding light on how HIV/AIDS effects people of color and other minorities, and those who don’t have access to life-saving medications.
“Healthcare should be for everyone and knowledge is the first step,” Bongiorni said.
It’s why new panels are sewn every day — and added to the biggest display of the quilt ever seen in San Francisco.
Jones said it “represents a great deal of love, the power of love, the power of community. What family really means.”
KRON4’s annual Pride special, Love Will Keep Us Together, will be aired Thursday, June 23 at 6:30 p.m. Watch on KRON4 and KRON ON.